Joerg Schmitz 0:08
Welcome to The Inclusive Leader Podcast. The practice of inclusive leadership enables us to tackle the complex challenges of our times. This is the space for conversations about inclusive leadership. I am your host York Schmitz and I welcome you to this episode. I'm delighted to share this conversation with Mark Fowler, CEO of Tanenbaum. Tanenbaum is a nonprofit organization that combats religious prejudice, hate, and builds respect for religious differences. It is focused on transforming individuals and organizations, particularly in the health care, education and overall corporate environments. And it also conducts multiple peacebuilding efforts around the world. So, you know, this topic could not be more timely or important as oftentimes our identities, our social identities, behaviors, and differences have a religious underpinning, and the topic of religion and religious diversity is only now beginning to be addressed by many organizations around the world. So here's my conversation with Mark Fowler. So the very unceremoniously Lee, I want to ask you, what you do, how to start us off. But really, in our case, it's really you personally, but also you and I mean, the organization that you represent an environment as well. And for me, it's one in the same. When I got one, I got a view and vice versa.
Mark Fowler 1:49
Well, yes, and I appreciate the question you are because there are places where there are a lot of similarities than there are places where it's different. So what I do is, I'm the CEO at the Tannenbaum center for intelligence understanding Tanenbaum for short. And I've been in the role of CEO for two years and a couple of months. But I've worked with Tanenbaum, and at Tanenbaum, for over 15 years. And, you know, I've had a number of roles in our programmatic work, and then eventually was named to succeed my immediate boss, who was the CEO of Tanenbaum, who and worked at tenable for 18 years. So a lot of our years kind of crossed over. And we spent a lot of time like working in building a Tenenbaum together. And as CEO, what's interesting is, is that I am accountable for all of Tanenbaum functioning, and what I actually do more times than not, I'm looking for ways to fulfill the mission and the vision that we have, which is to combat religious prejudice, promote justice, build respect for religious difference. And, you know, raising money to make sure that we are financially found, and also looking for new opportunities for either partnerships or ways in which we might increase or expand our impact. That's what I actually do. I am periodically still able to conduct presentations on our work. And I'm it's I'm glad about that. And certainly not doing nearly as much as I used to do when I was working squarely in the program area. Because all of the program, thank goodness are thriving, and we have very smart people who are working in them. So I don't need to be everywhere, which is a good problem. Yeah, it is a great feeling to know that I don't, and I have never really held it that I was the only one who could go someplace or do something and my staff pretty much no, you know, use me as you see fit in the pits in the feet that I hold in the position that I hold. In addition to the work that I do at Tannenbaum. I'm also an interfaith and inter spiritual minister. I was ordained 10 years ago, from the one spirit interfaith seminary. And periodically I preach at different religious and spiritual communities mostly in New York. I was on with a dean for a second year students at one spirit for six years up until June of this year. And I am on the faculty at the seminary so I teach a course to first year seminary students on religious diversity and bias and equity in ministry. And in the second year program, I will be teaching a Course, co teaching actually a course on spiritual leadership. And we'll likely be doing some work around sacred partnerships. So we're more commonly wedding. And so that is another part of my work. So it's very interesting because there are moments where there are resources, home thoughts about spiritual communities, that are very much a part of my experience as a minister. And even as a student that I've actually been able to share at Tenenbaum to some of our members, and some of our in various constituents that we have. And then likewise, they are modeled at Tanenbaum around social identity, social and phalion identity, the diversity of belief, culture and practice, our peacebuilding work and the lives in the work of our peacemakers that I've been able to share in my work in ministry outside of Tanenbaum. So it's a very, it's very interesting to see kind of where and how that flow happens. Because it's not always in the places, I would think. So
Joerg Schmitz 6:09
that's true, you know, perfect synergy, because this is we are likely to have a global audience for this podcast, just curious, interfaith ministry may not be familiar to many listeners, if you couldn't, wouldn't mind, you know, just explaining that a little bit. And then the other thing is the mission of Tanenbaum in itself, because I think it's an extraordinarily timely mission, specially when I look around the world, and what's happening in so many societies and communities worldwide.
Mark Fowler 6:41
Sure, sure. So my ordination is actually as an interfaith Interspiritual minister. And what that means is that we generally are trained to look at the mystical aspects of religious and spiritual belief and practice, that have resonance across a variety of tradition. So not just looking at ritual, that are the thing, but looking at the ways in which people access, understand, practice, the divine, the sacred, God, Allah, in whatever ways in which divinity manifests itself, across beliefs, and traditions and controls. And so really kind of grounding ourselves. And that there is a way in which people interact with that idea of not just that's what's greater than them, because that also has its own particular religious connotation. But that's why we kind of often will relate to what people relate to a sacred, and then how do we make ourselves available to people? And basically, spiritual stewardship, and and practice. So what you will find an interfaith or interest spiritual minister, usually very well trained in it, you have two people who come from different religious traditions, and they're getting married? And how do you actually create ritual and ceremony that acknowledges both have as well as how they uniquely see themselves as a couple or more, depending on the circumstance that you're in? How do they want to express their love and commitment in the world, likewise, with funerals and death, right? Even with children, that part of the curriculum that we actually have to write ceremony, then all of these kinds of lifecycle moments so we actually have to write a baby blessing as part of our training, and think about, you know, a family or even someone who has either welcoming a child, Pat, maybe they may be bringing someone into their family as a quote, unquote, adopted member, and what's the ritual around that, that adds the sacred element or the sacred dimension to that experience?
Joerg Schmitz 9:16
So because this is the The Inclusive Leader Podcast, right, I'm just it's so fascinating, because in a sense, you're saying the core of interfaith and inter inter spiritual ministry is actually inclusive, right, inclusive of all kinds of traditions. And through that, you also have to, you know, this is actually more of a question but create rituals, right, that give expression to that inclusive sense of religious diversity or are different different traditions actually, that exist
Mark Fowler 9:53
now? Absolutely. That also does also include the experiences of effective and people who do that identity By with any kind of religious or spiritual tradition at all, who very well maybe still have profound or present wounding or the experience of being wounded by being a member of a particular tradition. And I liked the way that you said it, because what it kind of bear that in mind for me is that we are rather than making people subscribe to a particular ritual, we are in co creation with the people that we work with, around ritual ritual that helps them access that sacred as they understand it,
Joerg Schmitz 10:38
it's so I mean, this is this would probably take us off track. But I, I am a firm believer that leaders need to embrace rituals and symbolism a lot more than they actually do in order to transition their organizations through experiences of change, right? I mean, there's so many, many aspects to the human experience that we need, that that we were rituals help us transition, right. And that in itself, whether it is in a religious or spiritual context or not, would be a fascinating learning actually how leaders can, how we can create meaningful rituals to transition the or to accompany our shared experience?
Mark Fowler 11:27
Well, I will definitely say that one of the presenters at one Spirit, who has been presenting for many years, I think, even since the beginning of the since the creation of the organization, we actually have someone who comes in and prevents on ritual. And one of the things that she helps, and to your point is that people engage in ritual all the time, that they may not necessarily think of it as sacred. And so I would add to your thought about leaders engaging in ritual, it may be that they may want to be a little bit more public about the ritual that they engage in, because I've got dollars to donuts that they are there are rituals that they engage in, but it may not have been a safe environment for them to share, that this new direction of the company is coming from this process that I engaged in, Yes, correct. And maybe, you know, creating an environment where leaders feel their own sense of safety, that they can share this without thinking that someone's going to report them to the shareholders, by CEO is just blocked. But I think that there that and then to the original question, in terms of Tenenbaums mission, so you know, our We're celebrating our 30th this year, and I think the mission has evolved, certainly in the time that I've been here. So when we talk about combating religious prejudice, promoting justice, and in particular building respect for religious differences, we see that not as it is, we see that as both process as well as results, we hope to impact or support other people in the work that they're already doing. So we have four program areas, we work in education, where we provide training and resources for teachers and school system to create inclusive learning environment, but also to support the development of social and emotional learning guild, for students to respect religious diversity, to understand that it exists. And to actually have behavioral practices that they have been trained in when they approach religious or spiritual or even Secular ideals or people that are different from themselves. We do that same work in healthcare. We provide training and resources to both medical practitioners as well as non clinical staff on the way that patients and families make decisions for their care, that are based on their religious and spiritual beliefs as well, sometimes their secular beliefs and not wanting necessarily religion to be a part of their treatment plan. But giving all of those involved in the healthcare experience, the tools to engage with people, when these issues come up. And then you know, where you and I met is our work in the workplace. And it's 25 years now of the 30 years that we've been providing, consultancy and guidance and training and resources, with the idea with the ultimate goal, if you will, that employees of all faiths and none would experience themselves as being respected in the workplace. And that doesn't necessarily mean that they're chill driven, they get whatever they want. But that all of the processes that people engage in, even if they ask for something, and they don't get it, they walk away from the experience, at least knowing that they have been heard, they have been respected. And they have a good reason for why they can't have what they've asked for.
Joerg Schmitz 15:19
And that's perhaps one of the most difficult of all missions, right to feel that people are respected all around, right. I mean, yeah, I mean, it's, it seems sometimes, so trite when we say this, but it is actually one of the most difficult experiences to consciously create, and it takes a conscious creation
Mark Fowler 15:39
app, it does take conscious creation. And it takes also understanding that, you know, one of the activities that we sometimes engage people in is we put them into small groups and ask them to define what does respect look like them, like in real life, and that they have to, as part of the exercise, come to agreement on what it is that they are proposing. And as you can imagine, there are other groups, whether it's in person or virtual, who are working on the same thing. And undoubtedly, people are going to come up with different responses. And we know that the way in which the behaviors of respect are seen very differently unto a person. And so that conscious creation that you're talking about, means that you have to create prophecies that allow for the ongoing evolving of how people understand respectful behavior.
Joerg Schmitz 16:33
And I think I mean, this is so core to the human experience, as is, by the way, religion and spirituality, right. And we, we oftentimes, even though a lot of what happens in societies, and sometimes the worst things that happen in societies, I mean, I'm thinking of, obviously in my cultural context, the Holocaust, and so forth, where, where religion played such an important role, not as religion but as a label, right, of course, and the to justify tremendous atrocities. In this, I mean, at least registering a lot more conflict wrapped around religious identity. And I don't know if you see that your selves in different societies around the world, that which makes this entire mission that you represent, and you're part of your preside, in a sense, so much more important today. And it pains me sometimes to see that it's not. I mean, especially in the workplace discussions, or actually all of them schools, healthcare, healthcare, the workplace, that it oftentimes takes a backseat, if that's my impression, at least. Well, I
Mark Fowler 17:43
think that the one program that I didn't mention, which I must say, is our peacebuilding work as well. And so in the peacebuilding work, we identify and study the work, write case studies, but really try to raise the profile of not just the people who are receiving our award, but religious actors who are working in conflict zones around the world. And in some instances, that active conflict, in some cases, the people who are named as peacemakers, the environment in which they were working in post conflict now that they're being recognized for the work that they did during the active conflict. And to your point, I mean, I go back and forth with this a lot. I don't think we can underestimate the role that social media and media broadly defined plays on the recognition of religious diversity as an element of conflict as we see it today. What I do think that we sometimes are that sometimes gets underestimated in society, and even in our evaluation, is that we see snippets or moments now very quickly, without content without historical context without social or cultural context. And things get reduced into bound by where people don't always know what the full history of that experience is. And so I think that certainly, from my perspective, leading Tannenbaum, it has been somewhat easier to explain what we do as an organization, I would say, over the last six to eight years since I've been a Tanenbaum, where when I first started, people kind of struggled with this idea of well combating religious prejudice and what did that mean and you're a secular organization, but you're working in the world of religion, like people seem to be far more confused. Whereas now when I tell people what our mission is, they're like, well, thank goodness you exist and be incredibly busy. And so At least a recognition of the at the very least, there is a recognition that there is work to do around building respect for religious difference, that I do think resonate with people today because as much as religion is often talked about as the cause of problems, there's much more work to do around people understanding the intricate nature of distinguishing them time belief, from practice, and theology from the actual lived experience of people, and the ways in which people to your point, the ways in which their religious identity is targeted, distinct from a belief that someone has, absolutely, and
Joerg Schmitz 20:49
it's also people default on religious belief systems or religions as cause. But maybe it's a manifestation. You know, the causation isn't always very clear
Mark Fowler 21:01
that that is very true, very often in moments where or in conflicts that are being discussed, while religion has been purported to be cause, the cause is often actually around some other resource that people don't have equitable access to. And then religious identity is viewed as a way to try and get that resource. And the other thing that vary that doesn't happen in the same way, or it's not reported in the same way is when religion religious belief practice its solution. Yes, that's right. And the work of our peacebuilders is probably one of the greatest examples that I see of that, where that these religious factors, not just our P factors, but those around the world, who are working day to day in the midst of an active conflict, where their belief or the beliefs of the people are actually being activated to either resolve conflict or choose to stain. Yes. And I, you know, we do an international search process and a nominations profit. And I would not think from surprise that we will likely have nominees from the Ukraine from that conflict. And I would not think from surprised if there is somebody who had nominated from Russia, who is actively using their faith as a way to bring an end to conflict. But there but we're not going to hear that story right now. So
Joerg Schmitz 22:40
that's, that's true. But I love this, this way of really investigating how we see are we attributing cause to religion? Are we treating it as a manifestation? Or are we using it as a gateway to a solution? It's a really it's interesting lenses on this phenomenon. I don't know it may be the right time to ask my second prompt. But we I feel sometimes we already kind of straddled. It's very simple. Why? Why do you do this work? And I mean, this falls in why what is the maybe the history of Tanenbaum in a sense, and why do you do this work?
Mark Fowler 23:19
So Tenenbaum was created. In our name, our namesake, Rabbi Mark Tannenbaum was someone who was known as a builder, a connector, he engaged in a great deal of interfaith efforts around causes where people were experiencing inequity, sometimes in the fear of their life. He worked with a number of and across religious traditions, to actually bring awareness and shed light and hopefully to take action on behalf of vulnerable populations who could not speak for themselves or who were in danger. And certainly, the Jewish community was one of those communities, but he saw a larger context for why vulnerable communities and vulnerable religious communities would find themselves in the place of need, and often no one coming to their aid. And so it was purposeful to create Tannenbaum as a secular and non sectarian organization to illuminate the work that he did, that this was not just about one religious communities concerned. But that religious diversity broadly defined was an access point. It was a place where change could happen. And so, you know, the organization has grown and shifted over the 30 years, and very clearly, and especially you don't want to acknowledge the all of the members of the board of directors who have served Tenenbaum over the years, but to be very thoughtful about being an organization that provided strategies and solution, and ways to help people move forward in these very complicated topics, and also to not put ourselves in the position of having the answer as much as giving people context to a process that they could engage in to find their own answer. And then for me personally, when I first started working at Tanenbaum, which I don't expect it to be at for three or four years, by the way, and that was 15 years ago, that's how it often happened. You know, a lot of my work at that point had been I had been a high school teacher for a number of years, I had been an entrepreneur actually running a catering and big business. And I've also been a trainer with the anti Defamation League in their a World of Difference Institute. So when I saw the advertisement for an educator, and trainer, and tenant of education work, I myself have been a religious person, I, you know, was baptized as a Presbyterian and went to church and all of that kind of stuff, and had had a number of different religious and spiritual experiences, I wouldn't have called myself a member of an interfaith community at that point. But certainly the idea of God being a part of my life, etc, guiding my life was definitely present. But I'd never really thought out a job where the exploration of religion was actually a part of the job. And so it was kind of interesting to me, because it was this intersection that I'd never imagined. My work as a teacher and my work as a trainer, and you know, my own kind of like, experience of being a religious or spiritual person, there was something very interesting about it. As I continued, like, once I got the job, and then continued working through all of Tenenbaums program area, there were a couple of things that happened that kind of were life changing in a way or at least lens changing, maybe I should say, so I am an African American person, I identify as gay, I'm 58 years old. So there's certain life experiences that kind of come with all of that, and things, you know, having lived through, you know, the beginnings of the AIDS crisis, and all of that kind of stuff. So there were any number of places where I could see where I was not experiencing privilege, where I was actually at the behest of other people. But working at Tannenbaum was when I first came into the idea of privilege, at least in the United States, and it happens differently in different parts of the world, by having been an either an active or current member of the Christian community, and understanding for the first time ever, that there was privilege that came to me, that was unearned privilege, which I think it's important to distinguish when we have conversations about privilege, on earned privilege, that was dough to me, because I was a member of a Christian community, or in some way connected to it, or having experienced it. And this was at a time where conversations around privilege were not happening in dei favor. Yes. We were even tentative to introduce the idea, first in our education world, which is where it first showed up in our work, of course, but we had this really great model kind of building from the work that Peggy McIntosh had done around white privilege and unpacking the invisible knapsack, there was another article that was written at another time around Christian privilege. And so now, I am very, very, very, very mindful that anytime the conversation around religious diversity or equity showed up, that I am walking into that conversation with a certain amount of privilege and if nothing else, that Christianity is being anything is being discussed in relationship to a quote unquote, established legitimacy of Christianity, and everybody else having to make their cake. And so that changed a lot for me, because then between that, and then just knowing some of our peacemakers, having met them in person read their case studies and some other personal things that happened where people were kind of turning to me in a weird moment. I wished you could marry us, I wish you could do my father's funeral it and then kind of seeing all of these things kind of colliding, made a journey around interfaith and inter spirituality kind of thing. Interesting. And then also noticing, and this is, in my humble opinion, the conversations around interfaith often happen with only a couple of actors at the table. And so there in my mind, there is this ongoing journey, for those of us who get invited to that table to bring others who we don't see or don't expect will be at that table. Yeah, absolutely. And so I think that's one of the things that has kind of kept me attentive bound to a certain degree, is that there have there has been this personal growth that's happened over the years that I did not think I wasn't something that I expected to happen when I said, Yes, I'll be the educator and trainer for the education program, as it
Joerg Schmitz 30:47
goes in life so frequently. Tell her all these things. And sometimes, at least in my case, the things I run away from the most I running towards,
Mark Fowler 30:59
Oh, yes. Oh, yes, there's no way out. There's no way out.
Joerg Schmitz 31:05
What an interesting, I mean, what also interesting conclusions, because you, you know, all these other, I mean, you had, in a sense, you had an entire spectrum of choices around what you want to focus on in terms of that social experience. And, and, and to pick this area, or for this area to pick you perhaps, you know, sometimes it's the opposite experience. And to me, it's very central to the human experience, which is, of course, my kind of my anthropological lens, because, I mean, coming back to ritual, even right, in even the stages in life are marked by ritual, or by trance transition moments. And all of these are kind of navigated, you know, on managed, if you will, by some institutionalized sense of religious or spiritual meaning, even if it's entirely secular. And I think it's, we can look at the human experience in the workplace or in schools or health care or in conflict situations, without that dimension of spirituality or religion.
Mark Fowler 32:14
Yeah, no, I absolutely agree. And I think that, you know, particularly thinking about, you know, some of the commonplace the language that we hear today is around, you know, division and polarization. And the thing that I get concerned about is that in that characterization, is this idea that somehow those things did not exist before we started calling them. True, and it actually is a big area of frustration for me, because it didn't know that somebody thought that everything was fine until fill in the date. And it's kind of like, depending on who you ask, things haven't been good for hundreds of years.
Joerg Schmitz 33:03
Some religions or religious traditions have their origin in order in kind of an interface, you know, purpose, almost our mission is to reconcile and yeah,
Mark Fowler 33:16
there definitely are. And, and I don't want to leave your listeners, and I don't want to be a proponent of his, you know, it's just far more complicated. But I do think that in the same way that even before George Floyd's murder a couple of years before that, when we started seeing the murders that were happening in the streets are becoming conversation of Black and African and African American people in their workplaces talking, in some instances for the first time about what their daily life experience was, that the same is true for religious diversity, that there are people who have experiences that we don't even know about, that they manage on a daily basis that have been passed down to them, not just because everyone was in a conflict zone, but the kind of like, this happened to us, and could happen to us and your children again, and here are the warning signs. And that is, you know, definitely an experience of Jewish people worldwide. But it is the experience of groups of people religious and secular people who have experienced harm in the name of their identity that we may not be familiar with, or know a lot about or remember the day or two that our 11th grade teacher talked about it in high school like the religious literacy, if you will, and I use that term quite broadly. It's not been something It had been prioritized. And so as a result, we find ourselves in many instances, not unwilling, but far more unprepared than we would want to be, to actually be able to address the issue.
Joerg Schmitz 35:13
So what a perfect I mean, I'm looking at our time a little bit, but what a perfect segue to maybe that. But, you know, I oftentimes in these in these interviews, and in these conversations, I ask a very simple question, what are some, maybe one or two actionable insights from that anybody who's listening or so could could learn from or put into practice? And that would make a difference based on your experience and background and your focus on this?
Mark Fowler 35:44
Yeah. So I would say that if using a definition of privilege, you have the power with which you can make something come into reality. Using that as a base definition, I would ask people to consider where and to what degree, do you have any privilege in the space of religious diversity? To consider that? And then to make a short list if necessary, but consider what are the actions that you can take where your privilege were the the power, that just your voice and your thinking about something that are a topic that provides equity or relief for a group of people who don't practice the way that you do? What can you do? That would be one thing, I think the second thing would be, you know, one of our in our education work, one of our six behavioral learning outcomes is tied to this idea of, for young people to understand that there is religious diversity. And so I would encourage people to really explore, you could do it even in your own neighborhood, you'd be surprised. Like, if you slow your car down, going to the places where you normally go, how many places do you pass, that have a religious or spiritual tradition that other than your own, that you know nothing about? And you may not want, you may not be ready to walk into each one. But make a note and do a little research on what's immediately around you. What, who are the people immediately around you? And maybe you could take it a step further to find out what do they what do they need? I would say, you know, in from me, in times where I have been either saddened by something or depressed by something, whether it was personal professional, something that was happening in the world, one of the fastest ways to get out of that is to do something for somebody else. True. Yes, when I was teaching, and I would have all of these kind of quote unquote, weights of the world on my mind, for the hours that it was, I was in front of my students, I didn't have time to entertain my own kind of neuroses about things, I had to deliver a lesson I had to get. And so I do think that there's something to be said, for whatever, wherever you're feeling that fall, wherever you're feeling that sadness is a place to actually investigate. What could you do to alleviate that, that is not just for yourself, but for other than there is a quote, and I'm going to butcher it. But it basically says, That purpose is the meeting of your great sadness, and the world's greatest equate clothes. And so I would invite people to when thinking about a life of purpose, to dig into those places where you are experiencing sadness, because there is a need in the world that can be addressed by you exploring that sadness for yourself. And I think that that's one of the things that Tenenbaum helps to facilitate is that people support our work, they understand our work, they welcome our work, because there is something that doesn't feel equitable, there's something that doesn't feel right, that they know they can do something about but they're not exactly sure what they can do. And ultimately,
Joerg Schmitz 39:25
it's a spiritual practice how beautiful answers its own question, in a sense, you know, but
Mark Fowler 39:35
yeah, and even for the person who is not religious or secular in some way, just you know, as F Kennedy said, that's not what your country can do for you. That's what you can do for your country. And we can take that to the most simplest circumstances like Ask not what your family can do for us what you could do all of that. So I think that you know, it's a it's a really kind of universal experience of what it means to be in humanity
Joerg Schmitz 40:11
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